How To Set Up A SaaS Marketing Automation Strategy [+Examples]
Are you looking to build a solid marketing automation strategy and don’t know where to start?
You’re in the right place.
In this article, I’ll cover what marketing automation is, how to set up an effective strategy for it, and go over some examples of how to use marketing automation at each stage of the user journey to drive product growth.
- Build your marketing automation strategy in five steps: map the user journey stages, identify repeating tasks that can be automated, set your marketing automation strategy goals, pick the right tool for the job, and measure success to learn and improve.
- Acquisition stage automation examples: website chatbots, automated confirmation, and reminder emails.
- Activation stage automation examples: automate users’ path to activation with welcome screens and segmentations, use checklists to guide users, and email automation to reactivate disengaged users.
- Adoption stage automation examples: keep users engaged with automated email updates on in-app activities, and increase feature adoption with context-driven product experiences.
- Retention stage automation examples: use in-app micro-surveys to improve user retention and reduce churn.
- Referral stage automation examples: use NPS survey answers to personalize responses.
What is marketing automation?
Marketing automation is the process of using software and technologies designed for product marketers to automate repetitive tasks with the end goal of eliminating human error and build contextual and consistent experiences for the users across each stage of the journey.
Why is having a marketing automation strategy important for SaaS?
Self-serve is now more essential than ever. SaaS users prefer to get answers fast and to figure things out on their own. Marketing automation is what enables users to get those answers in a contextual and timely way.
But it’s not just that.
There’s a lot of repetitive tasks that are hard to accomplish without automation. Could you manually send a confirmation email every time someone performs an action, say subscribing to a trial? Probably not. Or at least not without delays or errors.
And that’s just one email. What about onboarding all those users that subscribe to the trial too? You can’t give a $10/month client personalized live onboarding.
In SaaS, marketing automation helps with eliminating human error and offering consistent personalized experiences for all users, in a cost-efficient way.
How to create a marketing automation strategy
Step 1. Map out user journey stages
The purpose of marketing automation is to help users advance from one stage in their journey to another. Since you have multiple user personas and use cases, the first step is understanding how the journey looks for each.
If you need a guide on mapping user journey right, you may find this free user journey template helpful.
Step 2. Identify tasks that need to be automated at each stage
Check for repetitive tasks in each stage of the journey that are causing low conversion rates.
Remember that automation is useful, but can also verge on the ridiculous when applied in the wrong context. So, it’s important to clarify what tasks are better handled by humans before proceeding to automate.
Here are some good examples of tasks that should be automated:
- Sending a welcome email when someone signs up
- Welcoming a user when they first log in to your app
- Confirm when you received a support ticket
- Confirm subscription renewal
Step 3. Set your marketing automation strategy goals
Before implementing any marketing automation strategy, be clear and specific on what goals you are trying to achieve with your automation:
- are you trying to increase your signup rates?
- are you trying to increase your trial-to-paid conversion rate?
- are you trying to reactivate users?
Try to be as specific as possible as it will help you stay focused on what exactly you need to automate.
Step 4. Pick the right marketing automation tool
Drawing insights from your user journey map created in stage one, identify the channels you are going to interact with users at each stage and determine which tools you’ll need for the job.
For example, when a user who has signed up for your product does not log in for a while, you’ll need to engage with them on your website or using email, trying to bring them back.
In SaaS, depending on your business stage, your marketing automation software stack will include an email verification tool, an in-app onboarding automation tool, an email automation tool, content publishing, and distribution tool.
Step 5. Measure marketing automation results and keep improving
To be able to improve the effectiveness of your marketing automation strategy, you need to first measure it.
Set KPIs for each goal, and use user journey analytics to track the success of your marketing automation.
Marketing automation strategy examples
You will use the tools in your marketing automation stack for multiple purposes.
Take chatbots for examples: use them to drive acquisition on your website or offer in-app support to your user.
This is why understanding what you need to automate and why is essential in a marketing automation strategy.
Now that we covered the strategy part, let’s go over some examples of what can be automated at each stage in the user journey.
Marketing automation strategy example for the acquisition stage
In SaaS, the acquisition stage in the user journey covers the steps the user takes before they decide to try out your product (signing up for a free trial or freemium account).
Below are some examples of automatons you can implement in the acquisition stage
Marketing automation tactic #1: Use chatbots to guide users on your website
A chatbot is a software application (the bot) used inside of a regular chatbox meant to give specific answers and simulate a conversation with a human using predefined questions and answers.
In order to build and use them contextually, you’ll need a goal (go back to the marketing automation strategy steps if you need a reminder).
In the acquisition stage, users interact with you mostly on your website. Placing chatbots on specific pages can help you guide users to find answers and overcome potential blockers in their journey.
Hubspot’s chatbot is a perfect example of contextual help.
This chatbot is used on their pricing page, and its job is to handle conversations bordering on choosing the right package.
Marketing automation tactic #2: Send confirmation emails and reminders
Confirmation and reminder emails are transactional communications sent via email to confirm user actions (payments, orders placed, support ticket submitted) and send reminders of past actions (your trial will expire, the webinar you’ve subscribed to is about to start, etc).
How would you react if you noticed money was missing from your bank account but you didn’t receive a payment confirmation? I would probably panic for a second.
We, humans, need instant feedback on each action that we take. We click a button, we want to see something happening. Money is taken from our account, we want a confirmation of what was paid and when.
Confirmation and reminder emails are the must-have automation every SaaS business should implement.
It ensures constant communication with your users, giving them peace of mind
Reminder emails, well- they’re exactly that. Reminders. As we rely on our alarm clock to alert us it’s time to take action, reminder emails help users take action when it’s needed.
Like joining a webinar they subscribed to.
Marketing automation strategy examples for the activation stage
The activation stage is about getting users to understand and experience the value of your product.
This is the point where you lead them to their initial Aha! moment and make them use the primary key features of your product in order to have a first-hand experience of its value.
Let’s look at some examples of what to automate in the activation stage of the user journey.
Marketing automation tactic #1: Use welcome screens to segment users based on their needs
Welcome screens are a great way to automate and personalize user onboarding.
Using a micro-survey on your SaaS welcome screen, collect relevant information about your user personas, such as their role or job-to-be-done.
Each use case will probably have a different path to activation, so use the information collected to segment and personalize the onboarding for each, shortening the time it takes for them to reach their AHA moment.
Check out our video below on how user welcome screens for user segmentation.
Marketing automation tactic #2: Automate the path to Activation with in-app checklists
User onboarding checklists help guide users towards their activation point in their user journey by telling them what to do, step by step.
Depending on your product and goal, your checklist will include different tasks that are relevant for each use case.
Loom, a screen recording tool, uses a checklist to drive users towards their activation point in their journey.
A pro tip:
Looking at the example above, you may notice that creating an account is included in the checklists.
It may appear counterintuitive because everyone at the stage would have created an account, otherwise, they wouldn’t be seeing the checklist.
When you add a completed task such as “create an account,” to a checklist, users are more likely to complete the next item on the checklist.
This is due to the Zeigarnik Effect: people are more motivated to complete a task when it looks like they are closer to the finish line.
You can use tools like Userpilot to build in-app checklists fast.
You will only need a developer to help you set custom events tracking, and then you can start building.
Userpilot is especially useful as a checklist builder because it allows you to segment which users you want to show the checklists to (e.g users that signed up and haven’t reached the activation point).
Want to get a demo? Book one for free today!
Marketing automation tactic #3: Build an email marketing automation to bring users into the app
Users are more likely to reach their activation point if you show them what they need to do and how to do it using in-app experiences.
But that only works if and when they are logged in to the app.
To bring users back inside the app and give them a reason to take action, build a contextual email marketing automation telling them what to do and why every time they stop engaging with your product.
Think of this automation as if it were an in-app checklist but in the form of multiple emails with instructions on each task.
This is an example from Miro in one of their primary onboarding email series.
Type of emails to include in your activation stage email automation series:
- Welcome email
- Action email: create your first [x]
- Reminder to complete a task: you haven’t completed [x]
- Celebrate success emails (after they’ve completed a task)
- Reach out to inactive users to offer help and try to get them back on the path to activation
Marketing automation strategy examples for the adoption stage
The adoption stage comes after users have passed the activation stage and this is where you want them to experience your product in more depth, giving them more reasons to stick with you.
How can you achieve that with marketing automation?
Marketing automation tactic #1: Keep users engaged with email updates on in-app activity
Let’s look at how Miro engages users with email updates.
I like how they send email updates to let me know if there have been any changes on boards that I collaborate on with my team.
This makes me want to go into the app and check it out (i.e interact with the tool), making Miro part of my daily routine and my go-to tool for pretty much everything that can be done on an online whiteboard.
By keeping me updated not only do I now miss important changes in my work, but I also become an engaged user close to becoming an advocate even.
Marketing automation tactic #2: Increase feature adoption with context-driven product experiences
Content-driven product experiences are any type of interaction that is triggered by specific user behavior.
All those interactions can be automated. For example:
- A user gets to a certain page, and you react to that by explaining to them how to use a particular element on the page.
- A user activates a specific feature in your product, and in reaction to that behavior, you trigger a modal that shows them what to do next.
- A user clicks on an element or spends a certain amount of time on a page and you react by triggering a hint or a tip.
You can use in-app feature tagging to track when a user clicks a button and then launch an in-app experience.
To increase feature adoption, contextual in-app experiences are the perfect automation example.
Postify, a social media scheduler tool, built and automated a walkthrough system that guides the user on how to use one of their features “group accounts”, highlighted in the image below.
When the user clicks on the plus sign, they trigger a series of tooltips that guide them on how to use the feature.
After following the instructions and selecting the accounts, another tooltip will show and prompt them to name the new group they are creating.
The third tooltip only shows after they have engaged with the second one, and it will also end the experience.
In the context of the “Group creation” mentioned above, we can use three tooltips as you’ve seen in the Postify example.
To learn more about tooltips, check our article on how to create tooltips without HTML and CSS.
Marketing automation strategies for the retention stage
Once a user adopts your product, you need to make them stick to it and make repeated purchases, month after month.
It’s how SaaS businesses work.
Here is how you can use marketing automation to reduce churn.
Improve user retention with in-app micro-survey
Automating micro-surveys to trigger when a customer hits that cancellation button can help in reducing churn, by understanding the reasons behind each cancelation.
The insights you collect will help you improve the experience for other users and reduce the chances of them churning.
But that’s not all. Setting up automated responses based on user’s answers can even make the user change their mind about canceling.
To be able to automate responses, build your cancelation surveys using the most commonly used reasons why your users churn.
Users might just be having technical problems that you can help solve (check the example below).
Marketing automation strategy for referral stage
Automate responses based on NPS survey answers
Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a type of micro-survey that’s used to gauge customers’ satisfaction with a product.
Use that information to your advantage by automating contextual responses based on the scores you receive.
Here are some examples:
How to respond to promoters using email
When a customer’s sentiment about your product is good, you can send an automated email to thank them for the rating and ask them for a more in-depth review.
Happy customers are more inclined to offer extra help.
How to respond to promoters using in-app messaging
If NPS was collected inside the app, then use the same medium to follow up: launch an in-app experience (modal) to ask for a more in-depth review, like this one.
Consider including incentives if your request requires some effort on the user’side.
How to respond to poor survey feedback
Using a tool like Userpilot will allow you to tag recurring responses from your NPS follow-up question.
Knowing what are the recurring topics that make users give you a low NPS score is the first step in automating responses and help improve their feedback.
For example, an email coming directly from a human showing understanding can go a long way. This is because, although machines can act faster, human-to-human interaction shows empathy and will show your customers that their success is important for you.
We’ve just covered what marketing automation is, how to set up an effective strategy for it, and went over some examples of how to use marketing automation at each stage of the user journey.
The most important takeaway from today is to always set your goals before setting up any marketing automation!
Your marketing automation strategy will fail to deliver results if you don’t know which results you are going after.
Want to learn more about how we can help with your product growth? Get a free demo and see how Userpilot can help.